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Snapshots from history

Snapshots from history
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First Published: Sun, Oct 05 2008. 11 47 PM IST
Updated: Sun, Oct 05 2008. 11 47 PM IST
New Delhi: Pandit Nehru with daughter Indira and grandson Rajiv.
Gandhi and Jinha arguing.
Patel, Nehru and Gandhi with Lord Mountbatten possibly discussing India’s partition.
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These are just some of the photographs by Kulwant Roy, a photojournalist who died in poverty in 1984 in New Delhi.
Roy had entrusted his belongings in twin crates to fellow photographer and close family friend Aditya Arya. Arya lugged the crates for over 25 years but finally opened them up last December.
The crates contain thousands of negatives and photographs between 1930s and 1960. And these aren’t just any negatives – many of these photographs have historians and other photographers excited, as they may be able to shed some light on events that occurred pre and post partition. “I shared it with my family, some photographers. They were so excited and they said lets just see everything. And we were just opening boxes. And it was like someone gives you a new toy and you start playing with it,” said Arya.
The photographs are still being developed and only a tiny portion, 77 original large prints and 18 original silver bromide prints, have been exhibited for the first time in New Delhi and is open to the public for the next 10 days.
The photographs capture some incredibly candid moments of India’s great leaders – a reminder of the easy access that many photographers back then had, sans the many restrictions, security and otherwise, that the media today faces.
The exhibition has attracted many old photographers and acquaintances of Roy as well. ”I remember the time Jackie Kennedy came here. And she was walking up the steps to Rashtrpati Bhawan. And there was this lovely president’s bodyguards in red uniform and they were going past him. So I stopped them and got this lovely picture that made the cover of the magazine. So situations were different then,” said Avinash Pasricha, one of Roy’s colleagues and fellow photographer.
Indeed, a look at these photographs reveals the close proximity Roy had with most leaders back then. ”Photographers had access to leaders. You know they were on one-on-one terms. They were friends at times. Nehru would enquire about photographers if someone were missing,” says Arya.
In 1958 Roy undertook a three-year world tour and kept mailing photographs back to India, only to discover they never reached his address in Mori Gate, New Delhi. Roy lived in depression and poverty ever since and could be seen looking for the lost prints in post offices and garbage dumps on Delhi’s streets.
The boxes also contain letters to a Japanese woman who Roy met on the trip and fell in love with. Documents now show she never made it to India. He died a bachelor.
The exhibitors hope to unveil the collection in stages and plan to hold a grand exhibition next year. But many photographs are in need of restoration and have attracted attention for their commercial value. The exhibitors plan to digitize the collection in the hopes of encouraging the archiving of post independence photography of other photographers as well.
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First Published: Sun, Oct 05 2008. 11 47 PM IST